After 1778 and into the mid-1780s, Robert's duties as the royal garden designer occupied much of his time. It appears that the demands of service to the Crown generally diverted his attention from the Italian reveries that had inspired most of his paintings during the previous decades. The present panel, however, is a charming exception: signed and dated 1781, it is a picturesque return to the Italianate landscapes for which he was known and that he briefly eschewed in favor of trying his hand at garden design and painting French garden scenes. In the same year, Robert produced a remarkable view of a river in the Ile-de-France, An Extensive Landscape near Paris (James Fairfax Collection, Sydney). Larger in scale than the present work and presenting a naturalistic panorama of a local view rather than an Italianate capriccio, it is likewise signed and dated 1781, and was also painted on panel, with the same thick, brushy handling and suggestion of clear, cool light. The peasant girls and animals in both paintings are inspired by the pastoral scenes of Castiglione. (For the Fairfax painting, see A. Wintermute in Claude to Corot: The Development of Landscape Painting in France, Colnaghi, 1990, no. 45).
This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the paintings of Hubert Robert being prepared by The Wildenstein Institute.